Feathered Jewels

     Hummingbirds, the second largest family of birds in the Western Hemisphere, are found from Patagonia at the southern tip of South America all the way north to Alaska. There are 338 species of hummingbirds, which range in size from the 2.5 inch Cuban Bee Hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, to the 8.5 inch Giant Hummingbird of the Andes Mountains in South America. Not only are hummingbirds the smallest birds in the world, many weigh less than a penny, they are also among the most colorful and are often referred to as "feathered jewels."

     Hummers, as they are frequently called, are the only birds that can fly backwards. They can even fly upside down! Famous for their aerial acrobatics, they are capable of all flight maneuvers except soaring.


     Hummingbirds can beat their wings up to an incredible 78 beats per second. Because of this, hummingbirds burn up energy very quickly. To supply their high energy needs, hummingbirds feed mainly on nectar from flowers and consume about 50 percent of their weight in sugar daily. They also feed on small invertebrates such as insects and spiders, which supply them with protein, minerals, vitamins, and fats. When flowers are scarce, they can survive for short periods of time on just invertebrates. Some have learned to feed on honeydew excreted by certain insects. Hummingbirds also visit sap wells created by sapsuckers on trees, feeding on the insects trapped there and possibly on the sugary sap as well.

     Hummingbird bills come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are adapted to the particular feeding habits of each species. They can be straight or decurved or even curved upward and may be red, yellow, or black in color. Hummingbirds feed with their tongues, using a licking motion at a rate of about 13 licks per second. Their tongues are very long and can be greatly extended, if needed, when feeding.


     The gaudy colors of hummingbirds are caused by two things: pigments and feather structure. The iridescent colors, such as red, green, and violet, are structural and are caused by light refraction or interference. Refraction is what causes rainbow colors when light passes through a prism. Interference is what causes the colors on thin films such as soap bubbles and oil slicks. These structural colors are especially represented in the hummingbird’s gorget and crown.

     To get an idea of the incredible variety of jewel-like colors found on hummingbirds, consider their names: Ruby Topaz, Flame-rumped Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby, Jewelfront,      Horned Sungem, and Purple-throated Mountain-gem, to name a few.

     God’s word speaks of jewels. Solomon says, ". . . lips of knowledge are a precious jewel" (Proverbs 20:15) and "the lips of the wise disperse knowledge . . ." (Proverbs 15:7). In Proverbs 3:13–15 he speaks of wisdom and

     understanding as being better than silver and gold and more precious than rubies.

     But how do we get wisdom, knowledge, and understanding? "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Proverbs 9:10. ". . . of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Colossians 2:2, 3. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, . . . and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." James 1:5, 6. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Romans 10:17.

David Arbour